“Power is the faculty or capacity to act, the strength and potency to accomplish something. It is the vital energy to make choices and decisions. It also includes the capacity to overcome deeply embedded habits and to cultivate higher, more effective ones.”
— Stephen R. Covey
The desire for power is innate. It’s in our DNA.
Anyone who says they don’t want power already has a ton of it, they are out of touch with themselves, or they’re lying.
Being humble doesn’t exclude the desire for power.
The renunciate who meditates in a cave wants power — spiritual power, and perhaps the power of immortality.
Mother Theresa wanted the power to feed millions.
Mahatma Gandhi starved himself 17 times (once for 21 days) in the pursuit of power for his country.
Politicians dedicate their lives to Machiavellian power.
Gods and demons war over power.
While most people are busy seeking worldly power, they often overlook the type of power that is closer to home, accessible, controllable, and satisfying — personal power.
For me, the most accurate and useful interpretation of personal power is this:
“The personal power that comes from principle-centered living is the power of a self-aware, knowledgeable, proactive individual, unrestricted by the attitudes, behaviors, and actions of others or by many of the circumstances and environmental influences that limit other people.”
— Stephen R. Covey
To realize Covey’s idea of personal power requires that you first establish a relationship with yourself; self-awareness, and second, that you develop authority over yourself.
Without self-awareness and authority over yourself, you are vulnerable to the changing conditions of life, other people, agendas, and beliefs.
Personal power is not status, money, or success. And yet, the more personal power you have, the higher your chances of attracting the things you want into your life.
This occurs for 3 reasons:
“Do the thing and you will have the power.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Anyone can develop personal power, and I would say it’s your birthright to do so.
I firmly believe this because every story that inspired the hearts and minds of humanity followed the archetypical journey of powerlessness to power.
Stories from isolation to connectedness, from apathy to faith, from ignorance to wisdom, and from prejudice to love, stir tears because they mirror our innate desires to become our most powerful selves.
Your story is unique to you, but it shares the collective human story arc; the journey from powerlessness to power.
Here’s where the problem begins:
Most people never wholly commit to achieving personal power because the way to power is opposite to the way to powerlessness.
Similar to the quest for spirituality, many people relate personal power with gain and acquisition. This is a symptom of the consumer mindset. In spirituality, it’s called spiritual materialism.
Personal power first requires voluntary surrender, not acquisition. In other words, pain. Pursuing pain is not only counter-intuitive, it’s also counter to everything we have learned.
The pain of releasing disempowering habits, relationships, traits, beliefs, and behaviours is difficult to sustain because these are deeply woven into our identity.
Surely only mad people seek to deconstruct their identity?
”The extreme limit of wisdom, that’s what the public call madness.”
— Jean Cocteau, Writer, Artist, and Filmmaker
Yes, you do need to be what 90% of people call ‘mad’.
“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”
— Alice Walker
Most people feel a degree of powerless in every significant area of their lives.
They feel powerless to direct their health, relationships, happiness, success and spiritual growth.
The fated feeling that life deals its cards regardless of efforts haunts most people.
“Who I am I to guide my destiny?” you ask. “The world is so much bigger than me.” “How do I even begin?” And, “What if choose the wrong path?”
In the rare moments that we do connect with our power, these anxious thoughts quickly steer us back to the familiar path, to dream of what life could be if we had more trust in ourselves, and in the unknown.
Like me, you have probably felt this way at some point in your life. Perhaps you still do.
It’s understandable and forgivable because the blinders were put on when you were very young.
“It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.”
― Benjamin Franklin
Both consciously and unconsciously, society and its authority figures; parents, teachers, governing institutions, and the media train you to accept and bow to their authority.
Parents want you to be safe and to fit in, teachers want you to learn the curriculum by rote, institutions want you to conform to their rules, and the media wants you to buy, and buy in.
Unless an outstanding parent or teacher encouraged you in another direction, the combined influence of these authorities would have fostered a belief that you should live without experimentation, error, and risk.
In the powerless mindset independence and creativity are not only unnecessary, they’re hindrances.
“We train kids to deal with teachers in a certain way: Find out what they want, and do that, just barely, because there are other things to work on. Figure out how to say back exactly what they want to hear, with the least amount of effort, and you are a ‘good student.’”
— Seth Godin
Most institutional learning is formulaic and outdated because of the requirements of bureaucracy. Only in recent years have high schools and undergraduate schools begun to roll out quantum physics teaching models. The debate on how to explain quantum physics remains in flux.
By far, the most dangerous fallacy of entrained powerlessness is this: if you subscribe to the rules of the past you will survive.
And yet, if we pay attention, we can see that in every sphere of life, agility, creativity, imagination, independence, and strategic interdependence win the day.
If we don’t pay attention, we continue to trust in outdated ideologies: the security of the 9–5 grind, the integrity of the stock market, consumer lifestyle, the infinite supply of natural resources, and disempowering religious doctrines.
“All I knew is that I never wanted to be average.”
— Michael Jordan
During your training in the art of powerlessness, you formed an identity that simulated the average citizen in your society. This identity helped you to fit in, to feel secure, and to have a sense of belonging.
But then you grew up.
Or did you?
Did you take on your first responsibility and question your authorities?
If not, you have not yet grown up.
And not growing up would have panned out beautifully except for that churning in your gut and the whispers in your heart:
“This is not my life.”
“I must take charge.”
“I must challenge my beliefs.”
“I must find my power.”
“You become mature when you become the authority of your own life.”
― Joseph Campbell
Personal power belongs to the mature. Learning to be powerful requires that you transition emotionally and psychologically from being a child to being an adult.
Most of us want to remain our child-self; to have what we want the moment we want it, to always be treated as special, to have endless pleasure and fun, and to live spontaneously.
If you allow your child-self to dominate, you miss and dismiss opportunities. Opportunities require discipline and responsibility. Children want to escape these.
It’s not that you want to leave your child-self behind altogether, that would turn you into a bore. It’s about developing yourself as a mature adult while providing boundaries for your child-self. Don’t put your child-self in charge of the candy store.
In any case, life has a way of making you grow.
You grow consciously through self-awareness and willingness to change, or you get dragged along kicking and screaming.
Either way, you will meet with a series of events that will push you towards the growth required to find your power.
You will meet up with your catalysts.
“The demon that you can swallow gives you its power, and the greater life’s pain, the greater life’s reply.”
― Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
A catalyst is a person or thing that precipitates an event.
Sooner or later, a catalyst arrives in your life to disrupt your comfort, your sense of belonging, your unchallenged authorities, and your ‘average’ identity.
It’s as though life itself, perhaps a higher force, wants to see what you’re made of.
The areas of your life that require realignment or strengthening are the most vulnerable targets for your catalysts, e.g., confidence, self belief, ethics, capacity for love and care, talents and skills.
Like a guided missile, your catalyst aims at your Achilles heel.
Initially, a catalyst knocks softly on the door of your awareness, whispering, “hey look over here.”
Again, this is why self-awareness is key to personal power. It tunes your psyche to detect your catalysts early on.
“If you allow yourself to learn who you really are by paying attention to that voice and force within you, then you can become what you were fated to become — an individual, a Master.”
— Robert Greene
Little catalysts occur through subtle feelings such as restlessness, boredom, sadness, disappointment, niggling pains, stresses, and fatigue.
The subtle hunger for something more, something else, some other place, night dreams, and daydreams, are tiny catalysts calling you to wake up and pay attention to their message.
Because they are outside of your habitual patterns, they are ignored because they are inconvenient to address.
Soldiering on, holding a stiff upper lip, pushing down emotions, and glossing over what’s going on inside of you with positive thinking are ineffective ways of dealing with your little catalysts. They won’t vanish because you ignore them.
Little catalysts are often embodied in other people who are anything but average.
An inspiring acquaintance, a compelling teacher or role model, a fictional character that stirs a desire in you to become more engaged and self-directed are also little catalysts vying for your attention.
The best thing you can do is focus on them and ask questions:
When you dismiss them, you are still under the spell of the old authorities that trained you in powerlessness. You are still the child-self.
Now for a painful memory from me.
I recall ignoring a little catalyst.
In an early relationship, I began to suspect my live-in boyfriend was involved in something secret. Although I had no proof, I had a feeling in my gut that he was hiding something from me, perhaps an affair or a business deal.
Apart from the uneasy feeling, I recall the exact moment that my little catalyst spoke to me.
While traveling home from work on a train, I glanced my reflection in the carriage window. A voice whispered gravely, “Leave, or pay big.”
As I turned away from the window, an old man sitting opposite me looked into my eyes and nodded, strangely affirming what only I heard.
Why is he nodding, I thought. Is he mad?
He didn’t look mad.
There you have it, a little catalyst in the form of a whisper and outward sign combined.
What more confirmation does a young woman need?
Apparently a lot more.
What happened next belongs to the following heading.
“You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
Trying to escape little catalysts presumes that you can avoid your fate. It’s a dangerous assumption, and yet we all know people who have tried to do it, and we can recall having tried it ourselves.
Every tsunami begins with lapping waves.
After we deny the little catalyst, the next catalyst is always more radical, insistent and scary.
It’s as though nature and the gods conspire and say, “Ah, she didn’t hear us. Plug in the loudspeaker. Bring it on.”
Big catalysts suddenly reframe your existence.
A marriage breaks down, a car slams into you from nowhere, a company restructure squeezes you out, a physical or mental illness sends you into a foreign land — the medical system.
Suddenly you stand apart from who you were and how you once lived.
You change from family man or woman to divorcee, from manager to unemployed, from a person of vital health to a patient awaiting a diagnosis.
Transformations like these occur every moment of every day because 90% of people silence their little catalysts.
As the transformation takes hold, you get the chance to reflect upon the little catalysts that came your way, but which you ignored:
These are just some of the issues I’ve dealt with in my healing and dream practice. Sadly, the list is too long to recount here in full.
I didn’t listen to the churning in my gut that told of a dark secret.
I didn’t pay attention to the outward signs, the synchronicity of old man on the train nodding to my intuition.
I didn’t leave my boyfriend because I couldn’t see any physical reason to do so. But mostly, I didn’t want to go because I was outwardly comfortable.
Six weeks later, the big catalyst hit.
The drug squad tore our home to pieces and jailed my boyfriend for 2 years on drug dealing charges.
In a state of shock, I had to move house, pack away my boyfriend’s civilian life, while keep working full time on a large project.
I lost my voice for 2 weeks. Think of the metaphor. I didn’t speak up when the alarm bells were ringing. Then, when I needed my voice urgently, it was taken away.
It took 18 months for me to recover.
Walk any street, and you will pass by people who have at some point have experienced big catalysts that devastated their lives. You see it in their defeated postures and embattled faces.
Catalysts are tests and teachers of personal power.
In this situation, my Achilles heel was my indiscriminate dependency: putting too much faith in people who are not looking after my best interests. It is the child-self in control, and commonly found in children from broken families — me.
This is what my big catalyst taught me about personal power:
While it’s challenging to listen to every nuance, when something is important listen, and, if possible, act.
Since that shock, I have kept an ear to the ground. I can’t afford to be in shock for 18 months — not emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, or financially. I imagine you can’t either.
One thing to note is that listening to your little catalysts doesn’t mean that you can act and stop big catalysts from occurring, but the awareness can help you to prepare in some way, and this softens the transition.
Here a few episodes from my life where I listened to my little catalysts.
Last year I prepared to move my mother, who was developing dementia, into aged-care although the outward signs, including her doctor’s report, said she’s fine to live alone for another 2 years.
I paid attention to the unrest in my heart and spent 3 months looking for the right aged-care home and learning about the complex financial and legal requirements. I put my mother’s name on the waitlist of a home that seemed a perfect fit for her.
2 months after everything was in order, her home suddenly became unliveable. She had to leave suddenly. That same week, the aged-care home called with a vacancy. Unlike many experiences you read about, she was instantly happy in the aged care home and since that time her health and happiness has greatly improved. My family called it miraculous luck.
Despite receiving sound business and legal advice that affirmed a ‘golden’ investment opportunity, I turned it down because the guy I who I was dealing with said 6 words, “we know and trust each other.” True, we’d known each other for 12 months, and we were already doing a little business together. Also, I liked him a great deal and he was successful. The logical thing to do was to go ahead but I went with my gut feeling. A few years on the project went belly up. He’s now personally bankrupt.
Years ago I had a powerful dream that I traveled to India; a country I had never wanted to visit. I’d previously turned down 3 opportunities to holiday there with friends. Not long after the dream, a new friend told me about a trip he was about to take to a very remote region of Northwest India. As I recalled the dream, I found myself asking if I could come along. He was bewildered as to why I would want to go to one of the poorest parts of the world. I said I didn’t know either except for a dream. It was a life-changing journey that revolutionized my spiritual life.
On the one hand, heeding you little catalysts does create miracles. It’s as though nature and gods conspire and say. “Ah, she heard us. Let’s give her a hand.”
On the other hand, it’s plain old-fashioned good timing, the good timing that results from taking 100% responsibility for yourself and your life, and taking action.
100% self-responsibility = 100% personal power.
“I rely far more on gut instinct than researching huge amounts of statistics.”
— Richard Branson
Catalysts will come into your life to force personal power upon you — forcing you to take control of your life.
Listen to the whispers, the pains, and the inspirations. Watch for the synchronous outward signs; go, stop, u-turn, wait, no, yes. They are there for you. You will hear and see them if you pay attention to your inner life.
“Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”
— Albert Einstein
You must be the one who tests the relevance of your prior learning. Keep learning and challenging your old training.
Never stop developing new skills and discovering your buried talents. If someone told you would never be good at art or business — a teacher or a parent, boldly challenge their condemnation.
Everything is up for change. EVERYTHING.
“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt
While most people are aiming for less responsibility, those with personal power seek more of it, a lot more.
Look for how you can take back responsibility for every area of your life — your health, relationships, psychological, spiritual development.
Begin with one area that you feel most needs of your attention. Work on that, then move to the next area.
Slowly. You can’t rush personal power.
“Self-awareness is our capacity to stand apart from ourselves and examine our thinking, our motives, our history, our scripts, our actions, and our habits and tendencies.” — Stephen Covey
Without self-awareness you remain lost in life, people, agendas and beliefs.
A conscious relationship with yourself is the primary key that enables all the other keys.
Once you become self-aware, self-responsible, autonomous and you will naturally become comfortable with your contradictions, and you will leave the linear, mind numbing consistent world.
Your personal power will begin to glow and you will attract the right people and conditions into your life.